Good intentions but bungled communications have caused
the handling of a reported rape in Saratoga Springs to be blown way out of
proportion, leaving the city police department open to unfair and inaccurate
accusations of a cover-up or victim-blaming. As best as we can tell, it wasn’t
the investigation that was mishandled, it was the communications.
People want to know if a rapist on the loose in
Saratoga Springs and, if so, what are the police doing about it.
The honest answers seem to be: maybe, and as much as
they could do.
The brouhaha might have never occurred had the
police responded constructively to repeated requests for information from the
media and the public. All they had to say was something to this effect: A woman
reported to police that she was sexually assaulted at (time) (date) (general
vicinity). Police are investigating to determine what happened, where it
happened, and a description of the assailant. Further information will be
provided as it becomes available.
Then, as further information became available, it should
More than two months since the incident, pretty much
all we know is that it is considered an open case, which means the police believe
it prudent to not release any more details.
When police say they can’t reveal the details in a
case like this, here’s what I read into it: The details are fuzzy, perhaps
because the victim had trouble getting her story straight. Doesn’t mean she
wasn’t assaulted; doesn’t mean the police treated it lightly; does mean the
circumstances, as described by the victim, are unclear. That’s my guess.
The police absolutely cannot make public everything
they know. And when their hands are tied, their tongues are tied, too. Public
relations missteps from the top down have made the police look bad, and that’s
a shame. Effective communications is a skill. Not everyone has it, especially
I’d still like to hear Public Safety Commissioner
Christian Mathiesen say, flat out, that the communications should have been
handled differently. But, I agree with Mathiesen who, in an email responding to
The Saratogian’s Sunday editorial, wrote, “There was no cover-up, no failure to recognize the
seriousness of this crime, … no lack of appreciation for the subsequent safety
of women in our community.”
He notes that the editorial was
correct “about the need for improving the working relationship between the
police and the press. From what I have been told, particularly in this case,
mistakes may have been made. I would like to meet with members of the press to
discuss ways that we can work together better.”
That was good news, and not
surprising. I’ve only met Mathiesen a couple of times, and he struck me as reasonable
and thoughtful. He has been on the City Council only since January, and hasn’t
had to deal with public relations disasters and an angry public. We at The
Saratogian are taking him up on the offer to sit down and talk about how to
work together better, which will result in a better informed public. I’ll keep you